HAVANA – The opposition Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission said Friday that the Cuban government has rounded up thousands of beggars and indigents as part of a “social cleansing” operation ahead of Pope Francis’s visit to the island.
The government, according to the commission, wants such people “out of sight of pilgrims, foreign journalists and others visitors who will be in Cuba” during the papal visit that begins Saturday.
In a statement, the commission expressed “deep outrage and concern” about the removal of street people from the three cities on the pontiff’s itinerary: Havana, Holguin and Santiago de Cuba.
The commission asked Pope Francis “to request, as a gesture of mercy from the Cuban government, the immediate release of all beggars interned in Cuba in connection with your visit, taking into account the illegal nature of said cleansing operation.”
The statement underlined the special interest Francis has shown in poor and marginalized people.
Francis will arrive in Cuba as part of a trip that includes the United States, a symbolic journey since the pope played a role in the rapprochement between Havana and Washington, who restored diplomatic relations in July after a rupture of more than 50 years.